I had originally planned on writing this post and the next one before I left. I got behind on packing though so that didn’t work out. So where I’m going has turned in to where I am.
I realize that a lot of people don’t know much about Guatemala. Being so close to Mexico most Americans are more concerned with Mexico, or places further away. Guatemala rests in that in-between place so easy to look over. Before I give posts about what I’m doing here or why I’m here, it may be helpful to know a little more about what here is.
I also want to provide a few caveats before I continue. Guatemala is a country rife with conflict, poverty and lack of development. It is very, very easy to focus on those problems and ignore the rich cultural and ethnic history that continues to thrive in Guatemala. It is truly a beautiful country with friendly, hard-working people and these positives need to be highlighted far more often than they are. I hope this blog as whole will highlight those positives. For this post, however, I’m going to fall in to the rut that so many other peope and paint a pretty stark picture. While it’s bad to focus on the bad and ignore the many wonderful things about Guatemala, it would be ignorant to focus on political correctness in such a way as to ignore the serious issues that face it. So this post will focus on the bad, but the blog will (attempt at) focusing on the good and ways to address these problems.
Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates in all of the Americas averaging about 17 murders per day, with much more violent crime concentrated in the capital city.
The country also has one of the lowest rates of incarceration at 28 prisoners per 100,000 people. The average criminal trial lasts more than four years with less than 2 percent of crimes resulting in conviction
It’s well-known that throughout the 20th century many Latin- and South-American countries experienced widespread violence and unrest. Guatemala was the only of those countries to experience genocide.
According to the UN-sponsored truth commission report released in 1999, more than 200,000 people died or disappeared as a result of the armed conflict, of which more than 80 percent were Maya. The report also establishes that 93 percent of these human rights violations can be connected to the state.
Those are huge numbers, and many people welcome the 1996 Peace Accords in Guatemala as an end to the significant violence that obviously occurs during internal war. In terms of violence and security things haven’t gotten much better. They may be worse.
The number of homicides jumped 40 percent from 2001 to 2004 and continues to rise. In 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that Guatemala had the highest murder rate in Latin America. Guatemala City’s homicide rate - one of the highest in urban Latin America - is 109 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, nearly eleven times the rate labeled a “crisis” by the World Health Organization…Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that Guatemala’s current homicide rate far exceeds the avergae number of Guatemalans killed each year as a result of political violence during the armed conflict.
There is also a gendered slant to the violence today.
Of more than six hundred cases of women reported murdered in 2005, only two convictions had been handed down last year (2003 I think - Tony). Even so, the numbers given above are likely lower than the country’s actual crime rates.
It´s not just violence, it´s poverty and a lack of education to get out of it.
…nearly 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line and one in five people live in extreme poverty. Guatemala, along with Brazil and South Africa, has the most unequal income distribution in the world. The education system has left the country with the highest illiteracy rate in the Americas after Haiti; 65 percent of indigenous women are illiterate.
The realities of Guatemala post-civil war continue. There´s a lot more out there about its economy, health system, educational system, the plight of the indigenous people, impacts of urbanization, etc. I pull all of the quotes above from one book that has an obvious focus on insecurity and violence. It’s a great read though and does a lot to look at the way urban life and rural life in Guatemala are flip-flopping. For instance, during the civil war most of the violence occurred in the rural areas, especially in the north. Now a vast majority of the violence is happening in Guatemala City and the rural areas, while grossly undeveloped, are comparatively more peaceful.
The book is Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala edited by Kevin Lewis O’Neill and Kedron Thomas. It’s filled with internal citations that I cut out in my above quotes. This is a blog, not an academic paper. The link takes you to the Amazon page on the book.